Now that permits have been issued to drop the old Severn River Bridge into the river and use it as an oyster reef, birds are getting in the way and could stop the project.
Earlier this month, state and federal agencies issued the last of the permits necessary to allow William Moulden and the children in his Sherwood Forest summer naturalist program to turn the old bridge into an oyster bed.
The group, which will work with the University of Maryland's Horn Point Environmental Laboratories, wants to try to grow oysters on concrete rubble from the soon-to-be-demolished bridge. Oysters need a hard surface above the silt to live on.
Yesterday Mr. Moulden, a teacher in Prince George's County, found out there was glitch in the plans. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources' tidal wetlands permit precludes any work between Oct. 1 and March 31, so as not to disturb waterfowl who use the area as a stopover.
State Highway Administration officials say there's no way the old bridge can be on the river bottom by Oct. 1.
"If a variance can't be granted, or a waiver can't be given, there's just not enough time to get the work done," Mr. Moulden said.
The innovative project is designed to create an oyster bed that will help naturally purify water and attract fish, while also serving as a pilot program for studying artificial reefs and aquaculture. Oyster researchers, various agencies and private groups support the project. It also has won praise from the Governor's Bay Programs Office.
But timing threatens the project. Areas near the designated spot for the rubble are winter stopovers for thousands of waterfowl. Work in the area could disrupt their flights and visits.
"We are looking into it to try to see if we can give this guy some leeway to do this work or not," said DNR spokesman John Verrico.
Before the old bridge can come down, the new two-lane bridge must be open. SHA expects to have traffic on the new bridge the week of Aug. 22, weather permitting, said SHA spokesman Chuck Brown.
The contractor, Cianbro Inc., expects to start tearing down the structure the week after the new bridge opens, Mr. Brown said. The project should take three months. Putting the rubble in the river could add another month to the project, the contractor said.
Transportation officials said they expect to find out later this week what, if anything, they can do to correct the timing conflict that threatens Mr. Moulden's project. They had not identified any alternative as of yesterday.
Officials also are checking to see if there has been a bureaucratic mix-up. SHA can't do any work between June 1 and Sept. 30 that would disturb aquatic life. The restrictions to protect waterfowl immediately follow, said Mr. Brown.